Kasilof Personal Use gillnet fishery – King salmon harvest an overlooked cause for concern

The Kasilof Personal Use set gillnet fishery opened for the 2013 season on June 15 and unless modified or closed by emergency order will operate through June 24. Regulations governing this fishery can be found in the Upper Cook Inlet Personal Use Salmon Fishery Management Plan 5 AAC 77.540. (b). King salmon of both early and late run origin are taken in the non-selective set gillnet fishery that targets both sockeye and king salmon. Historical harvests of king salmon have ranged from a low of 46 to a record high of 514 with an average annual harvest of 207.

In the disastrous king season last year, 103 king salmon were reported harvested in this fishery while king retention was then prohibited in the Kenai personal use fishery. In the Kasilof personal use dip net fishery king salmon may not be be retained and any king salmon caught must be released immediately and returned to the water unharmed.

The early-run of king salmon bound for all streams of Upper Cook Inlet and particularly the Kenai River look to be in very tough shape so far this 2013 season.  Add to this the fact that the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADFG) has had trouble achieving both the SEG for early-run Kasilof kings and the hatchery brood stock goals in Crooked Creek, a tributary of the lower Kasilof River. Whereas ADFG implemented an Emergency Order (EO) for non-retention of non-hatchery origin Kasilof kings at the start of the season, turning a blind eye to this potential harvest of king salmon using non-selective gear seems irresponsible and foolish.

In light of the most recent restrictions and closures for the harvest of king salmon on the Kenai Peninsula, the simplest action that ADFG could take would be to close this fishery for the 2013 season. An average of only 15,000 sockeye are taken by participants in this fishery compared to the more than 400,000 sockeye harvested in the personal use dip-net fisheries on the Kenai and Kasilof rivers. Opportunity to fill the freezer is not in short supply, king salmon are.

Barring a closure ADFG could use their EO authority to cut time from this fishery and provide on-site monitoring or implement an earlier start date for the use of dip-net gear which allows for the release of king salmon while targeting sockeye. Doing nothing is not an option!